Transamerica Bike Tour 2002: "San Diego or Bust"

 

In 2002, my wife, Jessica, and I, and two friends, rode our bicycles across the United States. The idea originated as a kind of dare in the bar at a ski lodge the year before. I think it was Brian's (2nd from left) idea probably.

 

The yellow line shows our route from St. Augustine, FL to San Diego. It took us 9 weeks, 50 riding days total. We got some great route maps from the Adventure Cycling Association. We followed their Southern Tier route (in reverse... which ends up giving you an average head wind it turns out :-) ). Each evening, I would program the next day's route into my GPS. This saves a lot of time and worry.

You can get a good idea of the scale of the trip if you browse through this Google Earth .kmz file of our actual recorded GPS track across the country. You have to first install Google Earth, but that is nice to have anyway. It's a big country, but somebody's gotta bike it.

 

We started in Saint Augustine, FL... that's on the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Jessica is putting on sunscreen - very important. We stayed in motels the whole way. We met plenty of other bikers who were camping & cooking out - much more work & much more gear! Hats off to them!

 

This is how much stuff we brought. Actually, we started with too much (this much) and continuously mailed excess items back home along the first part of the trip. You just need 2 shirts, 1 pair of bike shorts, 1 pair tights, 1 pair of khakis, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair underwear, jacket, gloves, thermals, and 1 pair biking shoes! And those little lycra skullcaps are very light and useful for warmth. Plus short- and long-fingererd gloves. We "did laundry" in the motel sink every evening. I brought a little GPS and I had one of those half-sized Sony VAIO laptops so I brought that too to program the GPS and for everyone to share for email and a little bit of blogging.Cell phone, small digital camera.We had some walkie talkies, they were useful. Bike lights, batteries, spare tubes & parts, bike tools... Hardcopies of the maps & some motel info. Some snacks, gatorade powder and a couple of huge bags of water (if we were far from civilization), which is very heavy. That's about it.

My bike has "racing" wheels with fancy flat spokes. I don't recommend these - they are not made for touring with this much weight. Half way through the trip, I started to have trouble breaking spokes, and the fancy spokes are not carried in most bike shops.

 

We became very proficient at changing flats as we progressed. That's Paul in the picture. You need to carry plenty of tubes and tires as well. This was in Mississippi, the worst state for flat tires, I think they don't sweep the sides of the roads assiduously. At the beginning of the trip, Jessica and I were not really committed to going all the way across the country - we kind of went along as a joke. We did not train at all before leaving, except for one practice 2 day ride. We used the first part of the trip to train for the rest! (However, one of us (Paul) had more experience touring so at least knew what stuff to bring. A good rule of thumb when considering whether to pack any particular item is: Don't bring it, it's too heavy.) By the time we got about half way across the country, we had decided that we should try to finish.

 

Sure is a purty country. This is somewhere in Texas. (I suppose I could look up the exact spot in the GPS data and compare to the time on the digital photo!) We were very lucky with weather, only one rainy day for the entire trip. However, we did have 100-degree-plus weather though the middle of the trip... avoid that if possible. We carried tons of water / gatorade and drank it fanatically. Even so, ran out one day in the desert, no fun. Finally got into a small town and found a church with a working spigot! Ahhhh! Another day, Brian got heat stroke and was puking and shaking uncontrollably... that was no fun either - probably dangerous! We probably should have taken that more seriously than we did at the time. Brian hates a fuss, though. Anyway, definitely avoid hot weather!

 

It was fun coming down from this point - at least two hours of downhill without pedalling... magical. However, it was a long, tough day overall as we had climbed up to this point, and then had to go until after dark to make the motel. (You can find this day (2002-05-10) if you load up the .kmz file in Google Earth.) Our longest day (2002-05-21) was: 115 miles, 7500 feet of vertical gain, in 16 hours - before sunrise until after dark. We rode again the next day, too! On average overall we did 70 miles/day. A few weeks into the trip, you are pretty fit, so it's not so hard.

 

Made it to San Diego! The best part is, we didn't get run over by a bus! Would I do it again? The worst part for me was the traffic... like, you could die. Otherwise, if you have the opportunity to drop out of your life for 9 weeks, I recommend it. It is a pretty nice change if you have a job with some responsibility, like we did, and you are the kind of person who can't leave work in the office, like we are. It is an extremely "pure" feeling - all you have to do when you wake up is concentrate on getting to the motel 70 miles away by sunset, and you accomplish this with mostly physical effort, not too much thinking.